Three. Two. One. Lift Off! Last week, SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 carrying a constellation of 10 Iridium satellites, months after an unexpected explosion. While companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are aiming for bigger and bigger rockets and even hoping to send people to Mars, there’s a new industry out there to help “the little guys” that just want to get an idea or concept up into space. This untapped market for small satellites and small launch vehicles will help new space innovators test the viability of a product or to develop completely new solutions for on-orbit applications.
Enter two Barokas clients: Vector Space Systems and York Space Systems. Two aerospace companies that know size doesn’t always matter to be the best. With missions to help small businesses and entrepreneurs get into space, rather than sending people to the outer edge of the universe, Vector and York provide launch services and space segment solutions to all kinds of commercial and military customers. By going against the grain and developing smaller and smaller products, both organizations understand the importance of carving out a niche and owning it. To me, the resident space cowgirl, there are many parallels between commercialized space and other brands that differentiate themselves by catering to a unique market.
When it comes to finding sunflower seed butter, soy-less soy sauce and vegan raised non-GMO meat, no other grocery store comes close to catering a specific niche group quite like Whole Foods. While the supermarket itself boasts that it solely sells foods without artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners, and hydrogenated fats, other competitors like King Soopers, Safeway and Sprouts focus on serving a larger customer base. Whole Foods owns the clean eating space and with their ride or die health-nut obsessives, they will continue to dominate the category.
For all the ladies out there who have tried Lush beauty products, they know that in comparison to Sephora, Ulta and MAC cosmetic stores, Lush stands out among the pack. Lush is all about ethical buying and purity in the handmade products they sell at their stores. Valuing social and corporate responsibility over a luxurious image, Lush appeals to very specific group of women (and men) who hold integrity in beauty products in high regard. Compared to bigger cosmetic brands that test their products on animals or use cheap materials that will make you break out, Lush understands their customers and has built a largely successful business off of catering to their specific needs.
Large public relations agencies that employ hundreds of people are always striving for bigger and better. While there are benefits to employing this type of agency, at Barokas PR, our mid-size agency mentality has allowed us to serve both B2B and consumer technology companies in all sorts of interesting spaces including cannabis and space. This tech focus has also opened up many opportunities with clients that have tech at the heart of what they do, even if you may not see it that way at first. Tech is making its way into all facets of life and business including retail and hospitality, for example (more to come on that soon!). Our focus on ‘all things tech’ has enabled us to become the leading tech PR agency in Denver, Seattle and the surrounding regions.
While sending people to go live on Mars may not be the easiest case to compare against, businesses that have hollowed out a specific portion of the market to own are great examples of the kinds of lessons we can learn from our clients. Bigger may not always be better and stick to what you know! This will create the secret sauce that drives customers to your business, allowing you to kick you know what.
Piggybacking off a previous post around standout publications for cannabis news, this week we’ll be sharing the five influential thought leaders in the cannabis industry on social media. Ranging from reporters to business professionals to activists, the below list of influencers are not only great follows on Twitter, but also provide an educated voice for the relatively new industry.
You may recognize him as the subject of the Discovery Channel documentary series Weed Wars, however as Executive Director of Harborside Health Center, and co-founder of the ArcView Group, an investor network and research firm launched in 2010 and based in Oakland, California, Steve is one of the industry’s most recognizable activists. In June 2015, DeAngelo was awarded the High Times Lester Grinspoon Lifetime Achievement Award for his 40+ years of activism in the cannabis reform movement. Steve does a great job of not flooding your timeline with post after post, instead, he tweets about major industry news and trends, regularly adding his insight from decades of experience.
Christopher has been a reporter at Washington Post covering politics and drug policy for the past three years. Christopher does a great job of keeping a pulse on the entire industry, regularly retweeting fellow reporters and cannabis thought leaders. Christopher is also a pretty funny guy, and isn’t afraid to take the occasional shot if he feels it’s warranted. If you’re looking to follow someone with an educated opinion on cannabis related legislation, and someone who is not afraid to crack the occasional joke, then Christopher is your guy.
John is a political scientist and public policy analyst whose work focuses on marijuana legalization policy, among other topics. He currently conducts research into governance issues around marijuana legalization policy, specifically examining how the states that have legalized recreational cannabis are developing legal and regulatory systems. He tweets a few times a day, regularly incorporating his insight into various news stories and trending topics. For those looking read the fine print around America’s legalization policy, John is your go-to resource.
Alicia is a reporter for The Cannabist covering national marijuana policy and business. Alicia’s Twitter feed is a great resource for those looking to get a firsthand look of the affects at the ground level that marijuana policy has businesses and government. If you’re from Colorado and a fan of cannabis, Alicia is a must follow.
Hilary Bricken is an attorney at Harris Bricken, PLLC in Seattle, chairs the firm’s Canna Law Group, and is the lead editor of the Canna Law Blog. Named one of only seven “Deal Makers of the Year” by the Puget Sound Business Journal and Industry Attorney of the Year by Dope Magazine, Hilary is regarded as the leading authority on cannabis legal issues. From her roots in Seattle’s legalization movement to advocating for cannabis entrepreneurs across the country, Hilary works to help business owners establish strong legal footing in a fast-changing industry.
These are just a few of the many folks that we at BPR regularly monitor to keep up on the always changing landscape that is the legal cannabis industry. Be sure to visit the Cannabis Corner in the coming weeks to catch up on part 2 of the most influencial thought leaders to follow in the world of cannabis!
We live in a world of instant gratification. Movies on demand. Amazon Prime. Drones to deliver Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter directly to your front door. Everything can now happen when and how you want it.
Except PR. The world of public relations is still a deep, slow burn that requires an endless amount of patience and, even then, just a tad more patience.
Case in point, a recent Dr. Oz segment called ‘Jumpstart Your Finances and Get Out of Debt’ in which financial expert Lauren Greutman discussed how cash back shopping app (and Barokas client) Ibotta can help consumers save money on everyday items. Great visibility on daytime broadcast in front of more than two million of Ibotta’s core demographic.
But as with any seemingly simple media placement, the real story is behind the scenes.
Rewind more than SIX MONTHS AGO in June when Barokas reached out to Lauren for an introductory phone call with Ibotta. From there, constant check-ins on what Lauren was working on, what Ibotta was announcing, what might make sense for both parties. It was like an unsexy and non-romantic version of The Notebook.
Then, in late December, Lauren reached out to say she was going to appear on Dr. Oz and Ibotta would be a great fit for her segment. We got her all the material and Ibotta messaging needed, and – bingo bango – a great, on-brand placement.
PR would be so much easier if there was a direct and immediate path to ROI visibility. But until the Wizard of Oz grants that wish, it’s the Dr. Oz type hits that help showcase the need for PR patience and the importance of introductory meetings, calls, coffees, meet ups and Tweet ups. Planting the PR seed may not get that immediate payoff, but when it finally blossoms, the results can be Oz-standing.
Today’s blog post was inspired conveniently enough on my morning commute to the office. I had one of those friendly, conversational Uber drivers that instantly involved me in a game of 20 questions—How long have you lived here? Where are you from? What do you do for a living? That last one generally nets the most interest and inspires a string of further inquisitions. What is PR? What type of PR do you do? And of course my favorite—What advice do you have for me?
It seems that many Uber and Lyft driving gigs are notoriously popular for young entrepreneurs looking to make some side money while they try to kick-start their next “Big Thing.” In my experience, they’re consistently looking for tips to promote the “Big Thing” from anyone with experience in the field of marketing.
On this particular ride, I jumped into the subject of explaining the importance of having a digital presence. You know the old saying ‘put your best face forward?’ Well, in today’s heightened digital age, that “face” has more than one angle.
Digital Foot Step
Today’s customer is an educated one. This means the first thing they do when deciding they need a particular service or product is ask Google. The days of calling a business are few and far between. Instead, customers are reading online user reviews, searching for articles referencing the company, and diving into industry round-ups.
Social media presence—not only having one, but having the right one – is yet another face in today’s digital era. Consumers everywhere have melded their social and business lives into one channel. In addition to connecting with friends, they expect to interact with preferred businesses across Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, even Instagram. An effective social channel requires as much care and attention as physical marketing materials did in the past. The best preforming social accounts put an emphasis on quality content, relevant hashtags, acquiring and retaining followers, and most importantly – frequent, timely and relevant posts. Maintaining multiple social channels tells consumers that you’re willing to work with them when and how they prefer. That’s customer service at its finest.
Your physical face, your storefront’s face (if applicable), and your digital face, are all equally important when making a first impression. When today’s customer searches a particular business or service, the first thing that should pop-up is the official company website—ahead of articles, social channels, and customer review sites. This ensures you are presenting customers with relevant content that will ultimately help influence a purchase decision. Along with branded, highly targeted content, a few other aspects of a website should be taken into consideration—such as a fluid design, focus on UX (customer experience aspects), and timely/updated material. To put it simply, if your website gives off the wrong vibe, the customer is lost at the first touch point (of which it typically takes approximately seven to get a consumer to become a customer). Its importance should never be downplayed.
Keep in mind that that “first impression” may not be the one you’re used to delivering in-person. Ensure your digital presence is spit shined from all angles, and you’ll have all your bases covered.
If you were with family and friends for any part of the holidays, then you were likely asked about what you do for a living at least once. And unless you come from a long line of publicists, then your answer was probably followed by a confused look and a follow up question like, “PR, isn’t that like…marketing?”
This complete lack of awareness is due to the most ironic issue of all – the PR industry has done a terrible job of doing PR for itself, leaving most people without any clue about what PR professionals do on a day-to-day basis.
Well, it’s time to close the knowledge gap between the industry and the rest of the world. Consider this a step-by-step guide to explaining what you do to family and friends in 2017.
1. Start by explaining what PR is without comparing it to advertising.
Too often people fall back on comparing PR to advertising, using the good ole “pay to play” versus “pray to play” explanation. The problem is that people are left thinking that PR is the cheaper alternative for companies that can’t afford big ad buys. Instead, tell your clueless friend/relative that PR is the practice of building relationships with public influencers, including traditional media, bloggers, analysts and other thought leaders, to help successfully communicate your client’s message to their target audiences.
2. Next, share how you use strategy to get your clients on the cover of Forbes.
So, you finally made progress on explaining what PR is, but now you’re facing the next question, “How in the world do you make people write about your clients?” Instead of focusing only on the pitch process, start from the beginning. Explain that a successful PR program starts with a larger strategy that identifies each company’s target audience and determines what their most trusted channels are, then develops custom messaging to address each group. In other words, we figure out who our client’s target customers trust most, whether that’s an anchor at CNN or a famous Instagrammer, then develop relationships with those people, opening their eyes to how our clients can provide interesting value or insight that enhances their audience’s experience.
3. Leave everyone with an example of the power of PR.
We live in a world of DVRing, “Skimm”ing and unsubscribing, leaving companies with almost zero opportunity to use traditional advertising and marketing strategies to attract and retain customers. But people are scrolling, sharing and posting more than ever and consumers are quickly weeding out companies that fail to customize their messaging to meet their needs and provide them with valuable content. Take $2.4 billion outdoor lifestyle retailer REI’s “Opt Outside” campaign, which suspended all retail activity on Black Friday and gave their 12,000 employees a PTO day. The campaign used PR tactics like turning the site into a resource for discovering outdoor activities on Black Friday, social media integration and clever supporting videos to successfully take over the national media landscape. “Opt Outside,” which reached more than 1.4 million people and increased social media impressions by 7,000% in the first year, is a great example of how a brand can make a huge impact through PR, even while risking sales on the biggest retail day of the year.
Let’s face it, some people may still think that all PR people do is write press releases and tweet, but hopefully this guide is a step in the right direction demystifying the illusive industry we call home.
“It’s gonna be a while before we see these markets come online” was my response to a friend’s inquiry on Nov. 9, one night after cannabis’ near-sweep of nine ballot initiatives. While the momentum behind the plant was arguably at an all-time high, seasoned cannabis voices took to their soapboxes following Election Night to share their opinions on the outcomes. I wrote before the holiday break that cannabis though leadership opportunities were ripe for the taking, and the news machine was in full force between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Outside of predictions-themed coverage on cannabis and speculation around the Trump Administration, the bar seemed low for cannabis news stories after the holidays. The victory was won, the champagne poured – now let’s go heads down and figure out what this all means internally for a couple months.
(Image: Business Insider via Politico, Reuters)
Instead, a flurry of state activity in late December and early January led to a busy break for many cannabis journalists. Maine saw a rollercoaster couple weeks post-election: an anti-legalization recount that effectually fizzled, leading to the governor’s sign-off on the ballot initiative, set to be enacted January 30th. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker went the opposite way, postponing the opening of marijuana shops until mid-2018. Florida and Nevada citizens both already have the ability to use medicinal and recreational cannabis, respectively, but as Julia Granowicz of Marijuana Times points out, there’s still no way for people in Nevada to legally obtain the plant. Florida’s MMJ market has some constraints as well. Arkansas is already drafting regulations and forming committees – the list goes on but the bottom line is state governments and cannabis entrepreneurs are moving quickly to set up shop.
PR teams with cannabis clients relevant to these new markets need to have a cohesive strategy in mind and a timeline to implement those ideas. Don’t overlook the importance of local or even hyper-local outreach – the big fish, national media targets are important, but the ability to speak directly to consumers and potential customers will be a crucial part of whether or not your company takes root. An established presence in the media before entrance into these new markets can’t hurt either, as skeptical (and more than likely first-time) cannabis business owners turn to the press for glimpses into your offering and process in other state markets. Whatever your strategy, get it together now – these markets are coming online faster than you may think.
This week, we’re highlighting a handful of different outlets that we visit to check the pulse of the cannabis industry. A very important disclaimer before we dive in: contrary to the popular belief of my family members, there are a significant amount of reporters either partially covering or specializing in cannabis news, from those at Forbes and Fortune’s to strong local papers, blogs, and podcasts. Throw in some phenomenal freelancers, advocates, and analysts – all of sudden one realizes how much cannabis news is widely covered.
We have a post Coming Soon that will provide a better handle on these individuals, but if you’re new to the cannabis industry and need recommendations about where to dip your toes, you’ve come to the right place. In no particular order, here we go:
Groundbreaking start, I know. As the Denver Post’s marijuana arm, The Cannabist made quite the splash when it launched in late 2013 on the heels of Ricardo Baca’s appointment as the country’s first “Marijuana Editor” (much to the chagrin of the 20-year vets at HIGH TIMES). With Colorado being the Launchpad for this new wave of cannabis legalization in the US – cue loud voices from California – The Cannabist quickly became the go-to source for breaking news and coverage of the entire industry.
From my perspective, a couple things have allowed The Cannabist to maintain its edge over the competition. The first has been its ability to strike a balance between covering national breaking news in the cannabis industry and strain reviews. This spectrum of coverage is a key factor that enabled The Cannabist to pass HIGH TIMESearlier this year in viewership numbers. It’s a one-stop shop for everything from political news to which vape or strain should be your go-to, and has found a way to do so without appearing illegitimate, pay-to-play, or simply “too stoner-y.” Secondary arguments: great sourced material from AP and contributors, a rising video department, and awards that all serve to make these folks a leading authority on the industry.
Just plain news. MJ Biz Daily has fantastic insights into political and business stories that affect the cannabis industry, and it pays great attention to every corner of the market, from Alaska to Maine and even some international stories. Their roundup pieces are great for catching up on the week’s top stories – see also: Alex Halperin’s WeedWeek Newsletter – and they turn out the best infographics of anyone on this list. While not the place to land a nice, fluffy piece of coverage on that new vaporizer or list of budtender “do’s and don’ts”, I’d be hard pressed to find a better publication for keeping up with regulatory changes and individual markets across the country.
Most folks associate Leafly with the strain review/dispensary finder function of this platform, but Leafly’s News section has spent some time under the knife the past 12-24 months. The result is a driven and incredibly sharp gang of cannabis editors and reporters with an ever-growing contributor network. Similar to The Cannabist, Leafly’s news section runs the gauntlet from breaking news to deeper political and health stories, along with product reviews, “Cannabis 101” tips, and pop culture news. They also commonly write stories that answer some of the more interesting questions in the industry – like the impact of legal cannabis on alcohol sales. Bonus points for being in the Pacific Northwest and for great individual Twitter accounts that lead to more news, opinions, and gifs.
We found Civilized during a search for places to pitch one of our local clients, Paper & Leaf. Now based out of LA, Civilized has some of the nicest writers and editors I’ve had the pleasure of working with in the cannabis industry. A relaxed website layout with great visuals and titles, I was drawn into their site even before their readership numbers began to resemble a hockey stick. Their editorial team always has their ears open for a good story, and no one will ever accuse them of a lack of content, with most reporters publishing what seems like 5-6 stories a day. Civilized also employs several staff members out of Canada and has kept great tabs on that emerging market in addition to happenings in the US. Civilized will be an even more compelling news destination when Justin Trudeau and the rest of Canada make concrete moves on cannabis policy.
While I spend more time on Twitter than I should admit scrounging around for cannabis news, these four sites give newcomers a great path to catch up on all the activity in the industry. With so many changes continuing to come down the pipe in a burgeoning market, it’s great to have some of the country’s best journalists pumping out such high-quality content. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for a more comprehensive list of cannabis influencers, and more from the Cannabis Corner after the holidays.
We read a ton of news. A HUUUUUUGE amount, in fact. Being in PR, we all have some level of affinity for a good story. There was no shortage of election 2016 narratives, and its aftermath – an unexpected victor, controversial cabinet appointments, and even a full “thank you tour” – have left journalists with more than enough material to get through to inauguration.
Aside from President-elect Trump, cannabis may have been the second-largest story to emerge from the 2016 election. It had a terrific showing on the ballot in November, with nearly every recreational and medical initiative getting the green light (sorry, Arizona). That wave of euphoria for many cannabis advocates quickly crested as the attention turned to the presidential race. Journalists clamored to cover President-elect Trump’s early moves to amass his advisors, including the nomination of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to the role of Attorney General.
(Photo: John Bazemore, AP)
From our perspective in the world of PR, the cannabis news storm actually increased after election night, and our team saw stories center on one of two topics: what will the effects of California’s Prop 64 be on the national market, and what in the world will a Trump/Sessions administration do to a states’ rights to legal cannabis?
The answers to both of these questions will only come with time, but that didn’t stop many experts, including a couple of our clients, from weighing in. From the strength of the black market to the effects on small cottage growers in the industry, the news cycle was ripe with opportunities for thought leaders to provide their take on seismic shifts in the industry.
Coverage of Sen. Sessions’ nomination represents a similar window for cannabis advocates to provide their perspective, but the water is muddy with everything from “cat’s out of the bag” bylines to doomsday headlines that seem to write off all progress from the last five years.
Knowing when to step into a crowded news cycle and when to tiptoe around it – maybe even launch a company in the middle of it all – is a tactical decision that can result in some great traction for clients. Crowded news cycles in the cannabis industry are few and far between, but Election 2016 and its aftermath has been one for the ages.
Hi there! Welcome to Cannabis Corner, a weekly column starting today on the No BS Blog where we look at trending stories, topics, people, and products in the rapidly expanding cannabis industry. We won’t try and reinvent the cannabis news wheel here, but we will strive to provide our perspective as news hounds and media professionals, applying our aggressive, squeaky wheel strategies to one of the fastest growing and ever-changing markets in our country.
This week’s topic of discussion is power, particularly at the producer level. Here in Washington (and likely not news to others paying attention to cannabis policies), we have a three-tier system that divides producers, processors, and retailers into different sections of the market. A recent NY Times article took a closer look at one Washington grower and the effects of LED lighting v. traditional high-intensity (and high-power input) bulbs. Surprise, surprise: the LED lights significantly reduced the energy needed to grow the plants.
Energy and ultimately the carbon footprint of the cannabis industry are not new topics. We see a flurry of articles a few times a year, often around this time or during the depths of winter when we see our own energy bills spike. As of January 2016, the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board reported that 53% of the state’s registered growers ran an indoor operation, and another 24% had both indoor and outdoor setups. And as the industry expands into other states like California, Massachusetts, and even medical programs in states like Florida, indoor grows will continue to be a popular trend.
From a PR perspective, there’s a huge story to be told around environmentally conscious indoor growers and the steps they are taking to produce “clean, green cannabis.” As of today, those success stories have been reserved for outdoor, organic grows. But as cannabis continues to expand nationally, indoor folks will need to find ways to please both their customers, their books, and the environment. LED lights are expensive to install and not all growers have bought in. As Alex Cooley, co-founder of Seattle-based producer Solstice points out, environmentally friendly LED lights aren’t always able to produce the same quality of cannabis. Sounds like there’s a technology opportunity here, too.
The stigmatization around cannabis has drastically decreased in the past decade, but in some ways is being replaced by this narrative of the reckless energy-sucking, water-guzzling indoor grower. Environmentally-conscious voters share the same side of the aisle with many cannabis advocates, and it will be important that the industry address energy and power issues heading into 2017. It’s a story I’d sure like to help our clients tell.
Barokas is lucky enough to have offices in two of the most burgeoning and growing cities for entrepreneurship in the country – Seattle and Denver. And we’re not alone in thinking that, as the New York Times is in the midst of its Look West series of forums across Western cities like Portland, throughout California and Denver.
The specific panel – Denver Rising – took a look at how a savvy blend of urban preservation, entrepreneurial vitality and a vibrant arts scene is bringing Denver to even greater heights. Hosted by New York Times Rocky Mountain correspondent Jack Healy, the panel explored Denver’s role in the latest election, what it meant for millennial recruitment that the state voted Democrat, Denver’s path to greatness and what lies next for the city. To get a well-rounded viewpoint on all topics, the New York Times panel included former Denver governor John Hickenlooper, Director of the Denver Film Festival Britta Erickson, local preservationist Dana Crawford, and Bryan Leach, CEO of Ibotta, a Denver-based mobile rebate app and longtime Barokas client.
As a startup and rapidly growing company, Ibotta takes great pride in its Colorado roots, going so far as to include “Designed & Built in Denver, Colorado” on the launch page of its app. When speaking with media, Bryan Leach doesn’t just talk about his app or his company offerings. He is passionate about his company culture, the role of Denver in its success, and how he leverages the city to aid in recruitment and employee retention. He shared this vision back in May over an introductory lunch with Jack Healy, who wanted to include Bryan’s startup insight within the panel.
A company is more than its core offerings, and when speaking to media, influencers, customers and stakeholders, its important for company spokespeople – including their PR leg – to showcase this expanded message and drive greater understanding of a company’s key motivators. It might not always result in immediate coverage, but it might set the stage for something better down the line.